How often do we say when a loved one passes away, “I wish I had talked to them more about what they did when they were young”? Those regrets can only be averted when the person is still with us. I’ve always said that everyone has stories to tell but you have to find the time listen and you have to know what to say. I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by so many great people with wonderful stories that are there for the asking.
In that vein, when Vilma dal Corrobo asked if I wanted to interview her 108-year-old Aunt Eva Vische, I jumped on the opportunity and met her within the week. (Incidentally and unbeknownst to me, Aunt Eva passed away in February. It was the very week I emailed Vilma to check on Aunt Eva’s health. I, for one, will never deny that God works in mysterious ways. I believe Aunt Eva was very pleased to have been interviewed by me and for me and to have written about her life.)
I’m like that now because of the unfortunate circumstance of not having talked enough with my parents about their lives. Of course, that’s all a part of growing up. So, my strong recommendation is to talk to your parents or other elderly relatives while you still can. They have stories to tell. Whether they’re great stories or simple stories, they are THEIR stories.
One of my good friends and fellow Spaghetti-O’s attendees is Joan Carli Bauer. At a recent gathering at Carlo Lorenzetti’s in Chicago Heights during the cold winter months, Joan sat next to me. Story after story poured forth about the people and places of her youth after Ron Magnabosco shared his recollections of his life in Pullman. Ron brought up the subject after he mentioned that he recently stopped by the Pullman house he grew up in, as many Pullmanites do. The new tenants were very welcoming and invited him in to check out the house.
Here are just a few of the stories that were shared that evening.
Back in their younger days, some of the Pullman guys like Frank Dal Santo and Chuck Carli would pick up horse droppings in the street. In those days, there was a switch the streetcar conductor had to manually operate to turn the car around for its return trip. Boys being boys, Frank and Chuck would put the horse manure on the switch and wait for the streetcar to stop and the conductor to hop off. When he grabbed the manure-covered switch, the boys would laugh and run off with the conductor swearing and yelling at them.
One of the other thrill-seeking activities was streetcar sketching. In the wintertime when the streets had fresh snow on them, the boys would wait for the streetcar would come by. As it left the stop, they would grab onto the rear bumper and slide along the route. Their goal was to see who could hang on for the longest ride before letting go, falling off or getting chased away.
Joan remembers living in Pullman during World War II when the phones were on the party-line system. It wasn’t uncommon for some households to have no phone at all. The Carlis’ neighbors included a daughter, Margaret, whose boyfriend Wally was serving overseas in the Navy. The thrill when Wally called extended beyond the household because he would call the Carlis to talk to Margaret!
The quickest way to let Margaret know about the phone call was for Joan to bang on the wall. She would jump up at the opportunity to assist Margaret with her love life! After hearing the knock on the wall, Margaret would hurry over to talk to her sweetheart.
Back out in the streets, the boys would jump the fence into the local coal yard, fill a small bucket with pieces of coal and climb back over the fence to join the other guys and girls. The sole purpose of the escapade was to start a fire with the coal and roast potatoes.
One of the unspoken rules of potato roasting was to not get too close to the fire. Unfortunately, Margaret Basile got a little too close and her hair caught fire while they were roasting potatoes behind the Lucky Lady Bar—obviously not lucky for Margie, but she survived.
Joan’s dad, Frank, would have his paesani over every Friday night to play Italian card games like Scopa or Ferruccio. When the men played games, part of their ritual was to drink Frank’s homemade wine. Joan remembers that her job as a child was to take the empty bottles downstairs into the basement and refill them from the big barrels of her dad’s homemade vino.
At one point, Frank asked his father for a loan so he could start Frank’s Tavern. His father lent him the money on one condition: No hires behind the bar, only family! For many years, Frank’s dad would come in and sit at the bar in a chair near the cash register just to make sure there was no hanky-panky with his money.
Frank’s Tavern was very popular within the Pullman Community due in no small part to the natural Italian interest in socializing while playing games. Frank’s had three bocce ball courts that were well-maintained by Frank using a large cement roller that he made himself to keep the bocce courts in tip-top condition. Inside, there were three card tables that were always available for the aforementioned Scopa or Ferruccio.
Ron Magnabosco mentioned the Square Deal grocery store on St. Lawrence Avenue, which was run by the Fattori family: Joe, Hank and Mary. Ron recalled going into Square Deal under his mother’s orders and heading straight to Joe at the butcher counter. Once at the counter, Ron repeated his mother’s instructions regarding how Joe should cut the meat. Of course, Joe already knew how his customers liked their meat cut but he went along like he was following little Ronnie’s orders.
Joan recalled going to Square Deal when she was 5 or 6 and temptation got the better of her. She was walking by the produce section and took a grape or two when no one was looking. By the time she and her mother got home, little Joan was crying loudly. Her mother thought she had hurt herself, but when she was asked why she was crying, Joanie told her she had stolen a couple of grapes and was very sorry and sad for sinning. Joan’s mother comforted her with words of wisdom that she has never forgotten: “When you take from someone who has a lot, it’s not a sin.”
For her senior year in high school, Joan was assigned to Mt. Vernon at 105th and Morgan Streets. To get there, Joan would pay four pennies to ride the Cottage Grove bus to 103rd Street. From there, she would catch the 103rd Street bus west to Morgan and walk the remaining few blocks south to the school to 105th — all for four pennies.
Both Ron and Joan recalls that W.W. Young Hardware had a parking lot behind it. Ron remembered the delivery horses that used to drop off paint and other goods. Joan’s memory was a little more interesting.
It turns out that the lot behind W.W. Young was the place where buses were parked. What better place to have fun than on an empty bus? And by fun, I’m referring to make-out sessions between the boys and girls. Which brings to mind a question for each of us: “Wait a minute, wasn’t making out invented by our generation?”
IA Literati will showcase Italian-American authors from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on May 12 at the Italian Cultural Center at Casa Italia in Stone Park. Last year’s seminar was an outstanding success as numerous authors gave presentations of their works. As a presenter, I found the 40 or more people in attendance very attentive and interested. Our main speaker this year will be Chicagoan Jay Pridmore, author of more than 20 books.
For this year’s entertainment, I will be doing my one-man show, “George Pullman: The Man and His Model Town,” which I’ve been performing for three years.
If you are an aspiring author; have considered putting your thoughts and ideas down in writing, or have interesting family stories you’d like to tell, this event could lead you in the “write” direction.
For details, contact Dominic.Candeloro@gmail.com.
Contact me at 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628; 773-701-6756; or email@example.com; or visit Roseland Roundtable on Facebook.